Forest Fire in the American Southwest
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Ecological restoration
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What are we doing about it?

Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

—St. Paul, I Corinthians

Protecting forests from catastrophic wildfire involves restoring forests to their natural fire-adapted structures and processes. Ecological restoration models offer science-based means of identifying healthy forest structures and ecological relationships.

Click here to solve the puzzleBroad agreement has emerged on the necessity of mechanical thinning, prescribed burns, and other treatments to restore western ponderosa pine forests to natural function. Recent research suggests that intensive treatments on 10 to 20 percent of the landscape can be effective in reducing the threat of crown fires if the fuel treatment patterns are arranged to disrupt a fire’s forward spread rate. Smoke management is essential to the success of restoration planning and implementation.

The only known direct method of bark beetle control is the removal of infested trees. An excellent long-term strategy to prevent future beetle damage is thinning of overly dense tree stands. Reducing stand density can increase individual tree vigor provided the remaining trees are healthy.

People interact with forests in a variety of recreational, economic, and spiritual ways. The U.S. Forest Service, recognizing that ecosystems and people are unpredictable as they evolve together, has adopted policies based on adaptive management principles and practices.

Restoration works best when tailored to specific regional conditions. There is no effective one-size-fits-all restoration plan. Reaching consensus within communities on restoration plans requires patient, informed, democratic deliberation.

Community forestry programs and stewardship contracts stimulate local involvement in forest issues. Finding uses for small diameter timber from restoration projects may help forest communities find new economic opportunities, while contributing to improved forest health.

Changing paradigms for human interactions with Western forests are emerging as people recognize the ethical implications of their activities.

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Last edited June 25, 2003

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NAU's Program in Community, Culture and Environment Northern Arizona University